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Google Bard factual snafu sees Alphabet Inc. losing US$100 billion in market value, employees mock CEO Pichai for rushed, botched announcement

Google Bard can distill information to offer meaningful insights in conversational search. (Image Source: Google)
Google Bard can distill information to offer meaningful insights in conversational search. (Image Source: Google)
Google's demonstration of Bard — the company's rival to ChatGPT-powered Microsoft Bing — did not go down too well with the press and employees alike. A factual error during Bard's demonstration saw Alphabet Inc. losing US$100 billion in market value. Google employees took to internal meme portal criticizing CEO Sudar Pichai for a rushed, botched, and "un-Googley" announcement.

Microsoft has been all gung-ho about its new OpenAI-powered Bing search and Edge browser. Initial impressions have been fairly positive about the engine's ability to have natural, contextual conversations.

In fact, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella seemed quite optimistic about the new ChatGPT-powered Bing and said that he is sure of Google offering a competing solution and that he wanted people to know that Microsoft actually made Google "dance" in search.

Google announced that it will also offer in-house AI smarts in search. The company recently unveiled Bard — a conversational AI engine built on Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) stack. Bard will be initially tested with a lightweight LaMDA model and scaled up accordingly.

While one would expect Google to have a quite successful implementation given its numero uno position in search, Bard's launch did not exactly evoke applause. In the ad showing off its conversational skills, Google's new AI chatbot made a factual error. 

When prompted, "What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) can I tell my 9-year old about?", Bard came up with several answers. However, it wrongly said that JWST was the first to take pictures of exoplanets. The actual credit for this discovery goes to the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in 2004.

Talking to Reuters, a senior software analyst at D.A. Davidson opined, 

While Google has been a leader in AI innovation over the last several years, they seemed to have fallen asleep on implementing this technology into their search product. Google has been scrambling over the last few weeks to catch up on Search and that caused the announcement yesterday (Tuesday) to be rushed and the embarrassing mess up of posting a wrong answer during their demo."

Following this snafu, Alphabet's (Google's parent company) shares plummeted by 9% resulting in a US$100 billion loss in market value.

Microsoft's shares, meanwhile, rose by 3%. 

Even Google's own employees have not taken kindly to this. Google staff have access to a vast intranet, which houses a particularly interesting site called Memegen — this is where employees post all sorts of memes about the company and its executive decisions.

According to a CNBC report, Google staff have expressed displeasure at Bard on Memegen calling it "rushed, botched, and un-Googley". 

Bard's launch event in Paris last week also had several other mishaps. There was not too much of an interactivity that was demonstrated, and some employees claimed they were not invited to the event. One of the presenters even forgot to bring a phone that was needed for the demo!

Some of the posts on Memgen directly took a dig at Google CEO Sundar Pichai. One meme with a serious picture of Pichai read, 

Dear Sundar, the Bard launch and the layoffs were rushed, botched, and myopic. Please return to taking a long-term outlook."

Another meme said,

Sundar, and leadership, deserve a Perf NI. They are being comically short sighted and un-Googlely in their pursuit of ‘sharpening focus."

Perf NI is the lowest rating in the company's employee performance review system.

Employees asked Google executives in a December all-hands meeting whether not competing with the burgeoning popularity of ChatGPT is a missed opportunity for the company considering they've already had a head start with LaMDA.

In that meeting, Google AI head Jeff Dean indicated that the cost would be greater if something goes wrong since many people trust answers from Google.

That being said, a Google spokesperson did tell Reuters that the faux pas is actually worth it. 

This highlights the importance of a rigorous testing process, something that we're kicking off this week with our Trusted Tester program. We'll combine external feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard's responses meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real-world information."

ChatGPT-powered Bing is now available in a limited preview for testers and will roll out to more users soon. There's no tentative timeline for Google Bard's rollout yet.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2023 02 > Google Bard factual snafu sees Alphabet Inc. losing US$100 billion in market value, employees mock CEO Pichai for rushed, botched announcement
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, 2023-02-13 (Update: 2023-02-13)